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2014 Haiku Tanka Senryu Contest results (with Judges' comments)



HAIKU    (Judge: Michele Root-Bernstein)


Judging the 2014 haiku contest for HPNC has been a great privilege. I have tried to listen to each and every poem with attention, curiosity, and empathy. In addition to deft control of haiku elements and techniques, I have favored in my final selections those poems that also surprised me, whether in freshness of image, “lucky” language, unexpected emotional response, or transformative insight into phenomena. The six poems selected here, and many more unsung, lodged themselves within my heart and mind. ~ Michele Root-Bernstein


First Place ($100)


cherries in bloom…

the delicate application

of makeup to bruise

     Scott Mason

What draws me to this haiku is the unusual pairing of images. Commonly evoked and emotionally powerful cherry blossoms are juxtaposed to the very human effort to conceal and aestheticize a disfiguring injury of the flesh. A woman, perhaps, stands before a mirror, lightly dabbing foundation to her face. Has she got a black eye? How did it happen? The ku creates a space in which narrative possibilities abound, as do interpretations of the act. Rather than a sense of despair or defeat, we may intuit a certain confidence in renewal because her fingers, like cherry blossoms, work delicately. In good haiku the fragment informs the phrase; in the best, the phrase also informs the fragment. Here the "application of makeup to bruise" says something new about winter, spring and ecological disasters, too - something, I believe, about Gaia, humanity and resilience.

Second Place ($50)



folding lilac scent

into his burial flag

     Cezar-Florin Ciobica

This haiku thrives on the sensuousness of its imagery as well as the lightness with which it handles one of the saddest moments of our lives. Even as line 1 prepares us for mourning, line 2 introduces the vigorous scent of early spring blossoms—a seasonal contradiction, it would seem, to our emotional condition. Line 3 ups the ante, informing us that we bury a soldier, honored for military service. The short-lived blooms of the lilac bush suggest, too, that we bury someone killed in action, in the prime of life. All this we intuit or infer. The ku itself focuses our attention on smell and its strong link to memory. The sweetness in this death is that this soldier will not be forgotten.


Third Place ($25)


shifting expectations dandelion fluff

     Carolyn Hall


This spare juxtaposition of natural and cognitive phenomena shifts in emphasis as we consider the moment. On a literal level, we are watching the dandelion fluff float here, there, up and down in the breeze, not sure where it will land, where it will seed. Figuratively, the path we take through life may seem to mirror that haphazard journey. Alternate meanings of the word “fluff”—a bungling or misplay, or something essentially trivial—expand these ruminations.

Honorable Mentions   (not ranked)

dusk on the mountaintop as if I had wings 

     Renee Owen


This haiku makes effective use of the conditional “as if” to create a dual reality. From a distance, dusk rises up the slopes of the mountain and the poem’s persona wings with it. Yet at the summit, dusk finally and irrevocably falls, as does the illusion of flight. Like a Gestalt image, the haiku moment contains both potentials.


forgotten garden 

a fig tree enters

the fog

     Ernest Berry


In this haiku, redolent with physical and spiritual loneliness, the object (as Barthes would have it) becomes an event. The fig tree acts, rather than the fog, and opens us up to the possibility that we are the agents of our aloneness. The sound values in this ku also work to enhance the soft effacements of solitude.  


solar eclipse 

your halo

slips a little

     Tracy Davidson


With just the right touch of humor, this haiku lets us know that point of view is all in relationships. Even the sun’s primacy may be called into question; the passage of moons and moods affects our fundamental feelings, if only temporarily. The repetition of short i’s lends just the right vocalization, too, to the gentle scold.



TANKA    (Judge: Michael McClintock)


My selection of the winning poems focused chiefly on these factors: 1) skill in using the tanka five-line form, 2) fresh treatment of subject matter, and 3) layered meaning and nuance, and 4) overall memorability, focus, meaningfulness, and ability to engage and hold the reader's imagination.


Sweeping the board, congratulations to Kirsty Karkow for a virtuoso performance. Her poems show versatility in all the categories named above and reveal a well-seasoned understanding of tanka dynamics and aesthetics, an ability to shift and maneuver to fit the occasion, and a mind capable of drawing meaningful experience and depth of feeling and thought out of a world of concrete things and ordinary events.


Our second place winner, Janet Lynn Davis, shows similar powers in the large story she tells with such economy and punch on a theme that touches all lives. Davis sets complex material plainly before us in unadorned, simple phrasing. Her poem contains the biography and history of two people, heading into the future with love and understanding renewed however much their relationship has take on a new footing. In the poem's moment of truth, compassion and reason appear to triumph. There is much tenderness here, but it's left unstated, hanging in the poem's aura of emotional completeness.


First Place ($100)



joys of a tropic childhood

she startles him

by taking off her clothes

to dance naked in the rain

      Kirsty Karkow

Second Place


to use a walker

or cane

she leans on me

for the first time in her life

      Janet Lynn Davis

Third Place

each day

a little more is learned --

the names

of various beasts

and why the milk maid cries

      Kirsty Karkow

Honorable Mentions (not ranked)

a new day  

shall we grab it


and throw fresh popcorn

to the grubbling ducks?


      Kirsty Karkow


would literature 

have suffered greatly?

picture Juliet

leaning from the balcony

to shout go away


      Kirsty Karkow

SENRYU    (Judge  Jim Kacian)


As usual, choosing among the many good poems offered was a great challenge. My first couple readings trimmed the bulk of submissions to my top 30, which I further reduced to 13 after a week’s gestation and a couple subsequent readings. After another few days of allowing these poems to resonate with me, I have arrived at my 6 favorites, plus a “bonus” pick.


First Place ($100)

my fence

and my neighbor’s

don’t quite meet

      Brad Bennett

If good fences make good neighbors, as Frost would have it, what do irregular fences make? What should that little indeterminate zone tell us? How did it come to be that a gap was left? Was it done by the current owners or by their predecessors? Do the neighbor’s dogs or the burgeoning deer use it as a throughway into our yard or garden? Who mows there? Is there room enough in the gap for a political sign? If so, what sign? All the interesting activities of humans take place in the interstices, and this small gem recognizes this fact in very economical terms.


Second Place

fan dance

her every

hair in place

      John Stevenson

The dance of allurement, seemingly so wild and spontaneous, is in fact highly choreographed and precisely plotted. We must remove ourselves from our involvement in the moment to notice this calculation. And the perfect emblem for this realization is the dancer’s physical presentation itself: not a hair out of place. I appreciate the line breaks here—“her every” indeed . . .

Third Place



a fork in the road . . .

she opens the map

while I read GPS



The fork, we are led to believe, is not solely in the road. This is the sort of experience that reveals character, as both of these actors already know.

Honorable Mentions (not ranked)


My three Honorable Mentions all possess the archness of worldly wise minds. They all recognize a reality fraught with danger, and the likely inability that humans will manage to cope with it in anything approaching best form. The homeliest of these


A crow

among the seagulls

tourist season

      Garry Gay

recognizes that there are always two kinds of birds, and we know what kind we are. Do I also detect a whiff of George Zimmerman in this? The most cynical of these


air horn—

a warning for someone

much farther away

      John Stevenson

finds humor in the knowing that such a resource will never serve his own purposes. And the one most likely to be experienced by us all


three days

to stabilize

his health insurance

      John Stevenson

is simply grim in the face of our social contract. I would have scored this a bit higher had its line breaks served its humor a bit better. And I would be remiss if I did not recognize this truly horrific groaner


Guernseys turn

into the wind

dairy air

      Lesley Anne Swanson

The less said about this, the better.



Fay Aoyagi,
Dec 27, 2014, 10:33 AM